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On the Lighter Side...


August 22, 2010
So, this blog shall not perish from the earth after all.  I have decided to use it, for the time being, for my more casual, random posts on strange topics that interest me, like hurricanes and box office statistics, while the main action of informal theologizing will happen over at the new Sword and Ploughshare.  Hopefully this sideshow, however, will not be entirely without interest.
So, here is the first lightened-up post here, on hurricanes, heat waves, and climate change (some form of this is likely to appear in the 4th issue of Fermentations.)  

For years, we have all heard the increasingly hysterical rhetoric about how a warming climate will lead to more hurricanes and more powerful ones.  Hyperactive seasons like 2005 and 2008, and superstorms like Hurricane Katrina have been chalked up without further ado to climate change, and used as poster children for the dangers of a warming world.  As usual, the rhetoric has outrun the science, since the studies on the subject have generally been fairly inconclusive and ambiguous, although there has been enough evidence to establish a tentative consensus for a correlation between a warming planet and increased hurricane activity.  Our ever-surprising planet, however, has stubbornly resisted this correlation through the blistering summer of 2010.  

Moving Announcement!

July 15, 2010
Well, ladies and gentlemen, the long-awaited day has come.  There have been many delays, and it's still not nearly where I want it to be, but it's ready for use--my new website!  Henceforth all this theological and political blogging, in a much more organized and useful form, will be happening over there.  Plus, all the archives from this blog are there now, so you've no need to loiter around here. Perhaps this blog shall live on as an outlet for more casual hobby-writing--hurricanes and poems and that sort of thing.  We shall see.
But for now, please join me over at The Sword and the Ploughshare.

July 14, 2010
More pressing matters have delayed me from saying more about the controversy conference, but I do want to return to it and say a bit about some of the other lectures while the memory is still fresh.  The afternoon of the first day of the conference was graced by the presence (via videoconference) of David Bentley Hart and Robert Jenson, both titans of the American theological landscape and both known as well for their colorful personalities, which came through even from 5,000 miles away.  
Hart’s lecture was entitled a “Penitential Approach to Controversy,” though that was not really its main focus.  The penitence referred to was his own, coming to us as he did with a  legendary reputation for bombastic theological rhetoric.  We can, he said, invoke the prophets as a model for dramatic controversial pronouncements, but we must acknowledge that most of us are not called to be prophets in this way, and that went for him as well.
Hart proposed in his lecture to offer us not so much an argument as an intuition of why it is that ferocious controversy has been such a perennial feature of the Christian Church’s life, despite the New Testament’s clear calls for peace and unity.  His suggestion was provocative and intriguing, disturbingly similar to liberal reconstructions of the early Church of the von Harnack variety, and yet refusing to grant their apostate conclusions.  

July 12, 2010
There is, I’m afraid, very little to say about this chapter.  Actually, I’m not afraid--that is rather a relief, given how much there has been to say about the previous seven chapters.  This chapter marks a dramatic shift from the chapters thus far, because heretofore, VanDrunen has been attempting to claim a certain tradition--to say, “Here’s what X said, and here’s why it’s part of the Reformed tradition, and (implicitly) that’s why I’m all for it.”  But now, all of a sudden, he isn’t.  Finally, our narrative has a solid villain.  Barth is the fellow who decisively rejected the Reformed consensus, as VanDrunen sees it, who rejected the notion of natural law, who substituted one kingdom of Christ for two kingdoms, and who insisted on a unified Christology, rather than one bifurcated into two mediatorships.  
Now, there is little to say here because I don’t really disagree with this picture; Barth did reject the Reformed consensus, or at least, how VanDrunen has portrayed that consensus, and I have already argued with where I think that portrayal is flawed, so there’s not much point in rehashing it here.  I simply think that those points at which Barth does disagree with this consensus are generally healthy correctives, whereas I’m sure VanDrunen thinks the opposite.  Moreover, in saying that Barth is the “villain” of VanDrunen’s narrative, I don’t mean to imply that VanDrunen is harsh or unfair to him; he is quite objective and even-handed, so there is not a great deal for me to say in terms of contesting his portrait of Barth.  This is especially so as I am, despite spasmodic attempts to reconcile this shortcoming, woefully inadequate in my knowledge of Barth.  So there were a few points at which VanDrunen’s summary didn’t entirely make sense to me, but that was probably my fault, not his.  

July 10, 2010
In Luther's later treatise, entitled “The Sermon on the Mount,” we see an unfortunate shift from the promising (if somewhat disorganized) start of “On Temporal Authority.”
Having started with the Beatitudes, he asks, 
“What does it mean, then, to be meek?  From the outset here you must realize that Christ is not speaking at all about the government and its work, whose property it is not to be meek, as we use the word in German, but to bear the sword (Rom. 13:4) for the punishment of those who do wrong (1 Pet. 2:14), and to wreak a vengeance and a wrath that are called the vengeance and wrath of God.  He is only talking about how individuals are to live in relation to others, apart from official position and authority.” 

July 8, 2010
John Webster kicked off the proceedings at the Controversy Conference with his lecture “Theology and the Peace of the Church,” and as one might’ve expected from a man like Webster, it was profound, sophisticated, systematic, and rooted thoroughly in the doctrine of God.  I might add that it was rooted in a thoroughly metaphysical doctrine of God, though I do not mean that pejoratively (a caveat one has to make in this anti-metaphysical age).  His argument was essentially methodological, and sought to make two main points. 

First, attempts to discuss the issue of controversy and conflict in the Church generally move immediately to the ethical, the imperative, without first establishing the theological, the indicative.  Exhortations to overcome conflict thus degenerate into empty moralizing.  Instead of this, we must, like St. Paul, first establish who God is and what He has done, and then we can construct ethical imperatives to act in accord with what is already the case by virtue of God’s character.  
Second, this theological account which we must first provide is one in which peace is ontologically prior to violence, where being is good and evil is a privation of being, not a counter-being, in other words, the venerable Augustinian account of evil, enriched by his discussion of peace from City of God 19.  Anything else ends in Manichaeanism, in which conflict is just as basic to the world as peace, intrinsic to the Church’s life and inescapable.

July 6, 2010
Now, let’s turn to look at Martin Luther’s expositions of the Sermon on the Mount.  We find the first of these in his treatise Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed, and the second in, unsurprisingly, The Sermon on the Mount.  The first, while troubled by a number of inconsistencies (some simply the result of Luther’s characteristic lack of rhetorical caution), offers a much more satisfactory account than the second.  I shall resist the temptation to dwell on the inconsistencies and will stick to the core argument.
In this treatise, Luther beings by rejecting the “counsels of perfection” idea.  We must, he says, find a way to make these words “apply to everyone alike, be he perfect or imperfect.”  

July 5, 2010
(This post is not about VanDrunen--can you believe it?)
I just returned from an immensely fruitful weekend in Aberdeen, attending the conference “Theology, the Church, and Controversy,” hosted by the wonderfully hospitable Francesca Murphy and featuring such luminaries in theology and ethics as John Webster, Robert Jenson, David Bentley Hart, Brian Brock, and the inimitable Peter Leithart.  The conference featured an excellent lineup of papers exploring how the Church ought to engage in controversy from historical, ethical, and theological angles, and a fantastic roundtable discussion at the end that wrestled its way through the question of how we ought to engage the homosexuality controversy today.  (Not to mention, of course, the “Church Controversy Charades” that featured such once-in-a-lifetime experiences as watching John Webster attempt to visually act out the heresy of universalism, or Peter Leithart reenacting the castration of Abelard.)
A recurrent question that seemed to go back and forth during the conference in an irresolvable tug-of-war was: is controversy a blessing for the Church or an aberration that should be avoided wherever possible?  


June 30, 2010
In keeping with my new commitment to keep this review concise, I’m going to try and cover this chapter in just one installment (though it will be a very long one).  This shouldn’t be too difficult, moreover, as it is a shorter chapter, its argument is generally rather clear and straightforward, and where there are difficulties in the argument, they’re at points already discussed in this review.  Also, having officially and publicly lost patience with VanDrunen in the last chapter, I have regained my composure, and don’t expect there to be any more outbursts of that sort, although from here on out the focus of the reviews will be essentially critical, rather than expository.
VanDrunen’s basic point in this chapter is to argue, that even when it comes to Abraham Kuyper, the father of “Kuyperianism” and thus of modern “neo-Calvinism,” neo-Calvinists do not have a firm foundation for their views.  Kuyper, he wants to argue, remains by and large in the two kingdoms, natural law camp, despite--you guessed it--some lingering inconsistencies.  

Taking Off the Gloves

June 26, 2010
In chapter 6, this book turn a turn from the wearisome to the farcical, and I’m afraid I lost my patience.  I no longer have the patience to write 10,000 words slowly and politely deconstructing the argument of each chapter.  Chapter 6, although massive (65 pages) and full of details crying out for attention, does not merit such time.  So, I’m going to whip through it in one rather tempestuous segment.  I’m going to promise to keep this under 2,500 words, though methinks I can dispose of it even quicker than that.  

June 25, 2010
If you're getting tired of VanDrunen, I don't blame you.  I did too, as you'll see in the next installment after this one that I'm going to post.  The new website is still under construction, but should be up soon.  In the meantime, anyone out there who's really into two kingdoms theology in the 17th century can read on.

In the concluding section, VanDrunen endeavours to reconcile this two kingdoms theory with its practical application in seventeenth-century Reformed political thought.  At this point, he finally turns to take note of documents such as the National Covenant, and cites passages in Althusius, Rutherford, and Turretin where they insist upon a relationship of mutual harmony and support between Church and State, each assisting it in its duties, and correcting it if it fails.  VanDrunen is certainly troubled by all this, and regarding the Church’s instruction toward the civil authority, he says, “if there are even different primary standards of authority in the civil and ecclesiastical realms (natural law and Scripture, respectively), then there seems to be reason to doubt that ministers, whose training lies in spiritual things, have the competence to offer useful and even authoritative instruction on political matters” (195).

June 24, 2010
In the section on the doctrine of the two kingdoms in the age of Reformed orthodoxy, my suspicion is immediately aroused by VanDrunen’s invocation of the Scottish Presbyterians as leading proponents of two kingdoms thinking.   These Scottish Presbyterians are often known as “Covenanters” for their signing of the National Covenant in 1638, a document that united both civil rulers and churchmen in the task of protecting the Reformed religion in Scotland.  This document repeatedly blurs together civil and ecclesiastical concerns, going so far as to cite passages such as these from Parliamentary Acts: 

June 21, 2010
(Sorry, I like the word "obfuscation.") 
VanDrunen's extensive discussion of natural law in this chapter sheds little more light on the problem than did his singularly unhelpful discussion in chapter 4.  The opening subsection of the main discussion in this chapter starts out promisingly, as VanDrunen quotes Francis Turretin and John Owen on the nature and origin of natural law.  Turretin says that the natural law arises “from a divine obligation being impressed by God upon the conscience of man in his very creation,” and, moreover, “that so many remains and evidences of this law are still left in our nature (although it has been in different ways corrupeted and obscured by sin) that there is no mortal who cannot feel its force either more or less.” 
Now this last bit is intriguing, because it is here, I have suggested, that a crucial part of the question hangs.  For natural law to be a sufficient guide for life in the civil kingdom, then natural law must be clearly and sufficiently knowable by us even in our fallen state.  It isn’t enough for natural law to exist, it isn’t enough for us to have comprehended it in a pre-fallen state, and it isn’t enough for us to have some remaining notions of it.  What VanDrunen needs to show in these thinkers is that we still have a clear and sufficient knowledge of it to conduct our lives by it.  Is this what Turretin says?  I’m not sure--“there is no mortal who cannot feel its force either more or less.”  That doesn’t sound terribly promising to me.  To feel the force of it (more or less) does not seem the same as having a clear apprehension of all its essential dictates. 

Chapter 5 is easily the longest so far, weighing in at a meaty 62 pages, which attempt to cover the whole seventeenth century.  I have a feeling that it will take quite a while to review properly, though, since its claims and its weaknesses are quite similar to those of Chapter 3, there is much ground that will not need to be covered all over again.  
VanDrunen proposes in this chapter to study the themes of natural law and the two kingdoms in three leading Reformed theologians and political theorists during the seventeenth century: Johannes Althusius, Samuel Rutherford, and Francis Turretin.  Of course, restricting his study to just these three fellows, representative and important though they may be, leaves him open to the criticism that he cannot prove any claims about “Reformed thought in the seventeenth century” by pointing to the views of only three men.  He anticipates this criticism and pleads in response that obviously it is impossible to be comprehensive, so he has chosen the three most representative figures he can find, and has tried to fill in the cracks with some citations from other sources as well.  And he admits that, because of the limited test sample, the conclusions of this chapter will necessarily be tentative.  On the whole, I’m not inclined to press him on this point.  62 pages was long enough for me (at least, since I was on vacation), and a suitably comprehensive study would’ve been impossible; moreover, the three figures he has chosen do seem to be broadly representative of Reformed thought as a whole during this century, a century in which Reformed thought seems to have achieved a remarkable degree of homogeneity despite its geographical dispersal.  My concern here is more methodological, as I shall explain in a moment.  

Moratorium and Teaser

June 4, 2010
If you check in here with any regularity, you have no doubt noticed that activity has fallen off dramatically here since I've been traveling.  Since I will be continuing to visit relatives over the next couple weeks, and have my hands quite completely full with business, dissertation, and other responsibilities, I expect to be putting my posting here pretty much on hold till the middle of the month, though I hope there will still be installments of the VanDrunen review trickling in.  
But I can offer this exciting teaser--by the end of the month, I expect to be migrating this whole blog over to a new site, www.swordandploughshare.com, that will be not only a much better-looking, better-organized, and better-working blog, but indeed, I hope, much more than a blog.  So stay posted for the big move!

May 27, 2010
This chapter was certainly the weakest so far, and the weakness, unless I’m missing something, is rather simple to identify and describe, so this review shouldn’t take so long.  His approach in this chapter is quite simple: examine the treatises of six prominent “Reformed resistance theorists”--three from among the English Marian exiles (John Knox,  John Ponet, and Christopher Goodman) and three from among the Huguenots (Francois Hotman, Theodore Beza, and the author of the Vindiciae)--and look for any appeals to non-Biblical sources, all of which can then be lumped under the heading of “natural law.”  The result is rich in scholarly-sounding footnotes but quite lacking in substance.

Priest-Kings?

May 21, 2010
(Note: I'm leaving town tomorrow, and will have little chance to reply to post--hence the barrage today--or reply to comments for several days.  So by all means comment, but I may take a few days to get back to you...the same goes for comments earlier today that I haven't gotten to.)


So I have found a reason to like Vermigli: namely, he’s a bit more restrained than Bullinger.  In “On the Office of the Magistrate” from the Sermonum Decades, Bullinger starts out rather carelessly on his proof that “care of religion belongs to the Magistrate,” by alleging that in ancient times, kings were also priests.

“For among them of old, their kinges were priestes, I mean maisters and overseers of religion.  Melchisedech that holie and wise Prince of the Chanaanitish people, who bare the type or figure of Christe our Lord, is wonderfullie commended in holie Scriptures: Now he was both king and priest together.  Moreover in the booke of Numbers, to Iosue [Joshua] newlie ordained and lately consecrated, are the lawes belonging to religion given up and delivered.”

May 21, 2010
 VanDrunen’s claim about the use of the natural law in Reformed political theology certainly seems to ring true for a lot of what we find in Vermigli and Bullinger.  His claim was that, since for the Reformers, the political realm was outside of the sphere of the redemptive gospel, and belonged only to the sphere of creation, the ethics of that sphere were determined by the natural law and not by Scripture, and so pagan sources could be appealed to just as readily as Christian ones.  Of course, there are many problems with the way VanDrunen tries to make this claim, as I have been discussing in my reviews, but it is certainly true that these early Reformed thinkers are quite comfortable mingling sacred and secular sources in developing their political theology.  Consider Bullinger’s dedication to On the Authority of Holy Scripture, which I just posted about earlier.  
In convincing Henry VIII (as if he needed any convincing) that magistrates ought to be involved in managing religious affairs, he discusses first the example of Jehoshaphat, then a passage from Isaiah 49, and then turns to a rather random and eccentic account of Zoroastrian practice, and then an even more eccentric discussion of Egyptian statues:

Abortive Politics

May 21, 2010
If the idea of the left-wing and right-wing parties joining to form a coalition government here in the UK isn’t weird enough to us Americans, a woman at church last Sunday pointed out to me another huge disconnect between American and British politics.  In Britain, she said, it’s an open question who Christians are going to vote for; most likely, in a sizable and reasonably diverse congregation, fairly equal numbers of the members will vote for the Tories, the Lib Dems, or Labour.  But in America, so far as she could tell, it was pretty much assumed that if you were Christian, you were voting Republican.  She recounted the bizarre experience some of her friends had had of receiving emails from American friends back in 2008 asking for prayer that Obama wouldn’t win.    I regretfully assured her that her impressions of the polarization were quite accurate.  But why?  

Usury Today

May 21, 2010
Building off of my post yesterday, I now make a stab at answering the questions "Does the ban carry over into the New Covenant?" and "What does it mean for us today?"

Well, according to fairly standard accounts of applying the Old Testament law, it would carry over in its general equity.  It may be be straightforwardly part of the moral law, but it seems not.  It would seem to be a deduction, an application, from the moral law, for the nation of Israel.  This would mean that, to apply it, we have to deduce what moral principles it is seeking to apply, what things it is trying to safeguard for the communities of Israel, and then see to what extent those principles and concerns apply to other settings beyond ancient Israel.  Insofar as they do apply, then the prohibition on usury should continue to govern our societies, but we do not need to see it as a priori binding across the board.  (One thing that should be clear, though, is that insofar as it now applies, it would apply without distinction between co-religionists and foreigners, since in Christ all men become our neighbors.) 

May 21, 2010

Heinrich Bullinger gets a little carried away with himself in his dedication to King Henry VIII at the beginning of his treatise “On the Authority of Holy Scripture,” making for some jolly fun translation work.  After a couple pages spent reassuring Henry that he has been right to take for himself the headship of the Church of England, and not to listen to those who say that kings have no right to rule the Church, he exhorts him to take the reform of the Church firmly into his own hands, and concludes with this rousing encomium: 
“But already, O most powerful King, since the Lord has selected and anointed you to be above his people, you understand what is proper for you and what it is necessary to do.  You are the king, therefore you are the father of your country.  You are the head of the kingdom, therefore you will exercise understanding for yourself and your kingdom.  You are the soul of the body of England, therefore you will animate your people for the duties of a holy life.  You are the eye, the sun, and the light of the Church of England, therefore, snatching the Church redeemed by the blood of Christ from the jaws of the Antichrist himself, you will illuminate it with the word of Christ, and what is subverted by superstition will also be restored by true religion.  You have begun the work of Christ beautifully, and it advances extraordinarily through the grace of God; you will continue fearlessly in hope of the promise of God.  They who desire the advancement of the glory of Christ pray to the Lord for you and for your kingdom, and they rejoice for the gifts given by the Lord for those who labor therein.”* 

This is especially remarkable, of course, in light of how little the Reformation was advancing under Henry at this point...in fact, this same year he began taking steps to actively repress it, and made denial of transubstantiation a capital offence.
*my own translation

A friend asked me recently to share some of my thoughts on usury--the meaning of the OT prohibitions, their validity in the NT, and their applicability in the modern world.  As usual, my thoughts turned out to be rather wordy, so I decided it was worth exploring them in a two- or three-part blog series.  
So, what was the original purpose of the ban on usury in the Old Testament?

Truth-Free Markets

May 20, 2010
Virgin screwed us, again.  I speak of Virgin Media, of course, as any UK reader might guess.  Having suffered under their hidden fees, overpriced services, and wretched customer service for nine months, and having heard from others about similar experiences, we knew they were likely to.  And that’s why we wanted out; so we made all the arrangements, prepared to switch to a new provider, only to find that Virgin had, without our knowledge, swindled us into an eight-month contract extension, to which we were now bound.  All this despite dedicated research and fine-print reading before we signed up, and ceaseless vigilance afterward (trust me, this is going somewhere--this isn’t just a rant...or, it may be a rant, but it's a thoughtful one).    

Our experience, it seems, is fairly typical.  When we were looking into switching, I found that the company we were planning on switching to was way cheaper than Virgin, so I figured there must be a dark side.  So I researched and found they had received 3.1 out of 5 stars from online reviewers.  Ew, I thought, that’s not very positive.  So I looked at Virgin.  1.4 out of 5 stars.  The third-largest broadband provider in the UK has a 1.4-star rating (and overpriced services!).  What about the largest provider, Talk-Talk?  1.3 stars.  How can this be?  If these companies are so hated by their customers, how could they be so successful?  Surely no one should be able to capture 30% of the UK market share with a 1.3-star rating from existing customers?  Didn’t we all learn in our economics textbooks about how competition will destroy all the companies that provide poor products at bad prices, and that the great companies, that make their customers happy, will automatically rise to the top?  Why isn’t that happening?  Is there some government monopoly?  No, this was a free competitive marketplace.  Why doesn’t competition work?

May 17, 2010
The remainder of chapter 3 consists of three main sections--an assessment of Calvin’s use of natural law, an attempt to neatly connect Calvin’s doctrines of natural law and the two kingdoms so they are complementary and mutually interpretive (this is the heart of VanDrunen’s project), and a very brief assessment of some of Calvin’s contemporaries.  Although there is a lot of ground to be covered here, the initial section on the natural law.  Perhaps it is just the fact that I am rather less familiar with natural law discussions than two kingdoms discussions, but this section did not seem  to raise many red flags for me.  The second section raises some serious questions and problems, and will merit a close discussion; while the final section plays too insignificant a role to be worth discussing here.

Loose the Bonds of Wickedness

May 17, 2010
 Yesterday, my friend Byron preached a fantastic sermon on Isaiah 58, a remarkable passage that I was startled to find that I didn’t remember ever noticing it or having heard it before.  Just goes to show how rarely we are ever led to consider those passages that smack of liberation theology.  This passage is particularly challenging in its rejection of the “worship first, justice later” paradigm that is so prevalent in our circles, as it is unsettling to note that the worship being condemned is genuine heartfelt worship, not hypocrisy or empty show.  The passage was so striking, I thought I would post verses 1-11 here:

May 16, 2010
In the midst of his profound and powerful discussion of “Our Duty to Remain in Love’s Debt” in Works of Love, Kierkegaard gets carried away, as he is wont to do, and goes on a tangent.  All his tangents are good, but this one was a rare gem, since in it, he expresses as clearly, concisely, and compellingly as I have ever seen him do, the fundamental message of all of his work.  When I read this, I couldn’t help thinking of Hauerwas, and wondering why it was that I had never mentally connected these two before.  But I’ll let Kierkegaard speak for himself here, and let you make your own connections.
“When Christianity came into the world, it did not itself need to point out (even though it did do so) that it was an offense, because the world, which took offense, certainly discovered this easily enough.  But now, now when the world has become Christian, now Christianity above all must itself pay attention to the offense.  Therefore if it is true that many ‘Christians’ in these times miss out on Christianity, how does it happen except through their missing out on the possibility of offense, this, note well, terrifying thing!  No wonder, then, that Chrsitianity, its salvation and its tasks, can no longer satisfy ‘the Christians’--indeed, they could not even be offended by it.  

Leithart on Natural Law

May 16, 2010
Check out this post from Peter Leithart for a fantastic discussion of J. Budziszewski’s The Line Through the Heart: Natural Law as Fact, Theory, and Sign of ContradictionpastedGraphic.pdf, a book that I have promptly put on my Amazon wish list.  Leithart calls it “about the best and most accessible defenses of natural law one could hope for,” but still has reservations:
The universe has, I agree, a grain, a design given it by the Triune Creator, and we are to live in accord with that grain.  But we discern that grain not from “unaided reason” (J. Bud hedges with “so-called unaided reason”) but in the light of Christ, by the Spirit, through the spectacles of Scripture.  When we have the mind of Christ, we see how the world is to be, and how humans are to live, and we learn in turn that the world is not as it should be.   To put it more strongly, provocatively: There is nothing bigger, more basic, more universal than Christ the Lord, the One by whom all things were made, the One in whom all things cohere.   Christ must be given epistemological priority, and natural law theories, even of the best varieties, don’t honor that priority.

May 15, 2010
Alright, it’s time to move this review along...I’m supposed to have read and reviewed up through chapter 6 by now, but I’m still wading through chapter 3.  So I’ll try to step lightly through the rest of the chapter, and only zero in on the parts that really need it.  You may recall that VanD had listed “three important attributes of each kingdom that display the contrast of one with the other.  The three attributes of the kingdom of Christ are its redemptive character, its spiritual or heavenly identity, and its present institutional expression in the church.  The three attributes of the civil kingdom are its non-redemptive character, its external or earthly identity, and its present (though not exclusive) expression in civil government.”  So let’s look at the second one.  

May 13, 2010

Now, VanDrunen starts out by seeking to relate Calvin to what has gone before, telling us that “Lying behind Calvin’s discussions of the two kingdoms is an Augustinian two cities paradigm...a fundamental antithesis divided Christians from non-Christians” (71).  This, however, is not what his two kingdoms are about.  “Both of Calvin’s two kingdoms are God’s, but are ruled by him in distinctive ways....Christians are members of both kingdoms during their earthly lives.  Calvin perceived a clear difference between these two kingdoms but not a fundamental antithesis” (71).  Alright, so what are these two kingdoms?  VanDrunen quotes the famous passage from Institutes III.19: 
“Let us observe that in man government is twofold: the one spiritual, by which the conscience is trained to piety and divine worship; the other civil, by which the individual is instructed in those duties which, as men and citizens, we are bound to perform....the former species has reference to the life of the soul, while the latter relates to matters of the present life, not only to food and clothing, but to the enacting of laws which require a man to live among his fellows purely, honourably, and modestly.  The former has its seat within the soul, the latter only regulates the external conduct.  We may call the one the spiritual, the other the civil kingdom” (III.19.15, quoted on 72).  

Red Tories or Blue Liberals?

May 12, 2010
Here on the tea-drinking, Marmite-spreading side of the pond, everyone has been in a tizzy for the past few days about the sensational outcome of the General Election last Thursday--no less sensational for having been widely predicted.  With the voting public of the UK having developed a thorough contempt of Gordon Brown and Labour’s dismal record of nine years of licking America’s boots, yet unable to forget the deep hostility to the Tories that they contracted in the ‘90s, they found themselves seeking to steer between Scylla and Charybdis.  Nick Clegg and his Liberal Democrat party set out to occupy that strategic position between the two monsters, and thought they were poised for a breakthrough election, but failed dismally, winning only 57 of the 650 seats despite 23% of the popular vote.  The result, generally anticipated but still quite disconcerting when it happened, was a Hung Parliament, the first in 36 years--meaning that no party had a majority, even though the Conservatives had managed to beat out Labour by a margin of 305 to 258.  The options at this point were four: 1) the Tories could form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats to form a solid majority government; 2) Labour could form a coalition with the Lib Dems and a couple other minor parties to form a slight majority government; 3) no coalition would be formed, but Labour would defiantly cling to power until it became too unpopular to continue to do so; 4) no coalition would be formed, but Gordon Brown would resign, and David Cameron, the Tory leader, would become Prime Minister and run a minority government until it became too unpopular to do so.  

May 8, 2010
In the Middle Ages, a tradition of ethical thought had developed which distinguished between the precepts and the counsels (also known as the counsels of perfection or the evangelical counsels).  The former are binding upon all Christians, while the latter, including, for example, chastity and poverty, may be freely embraced by those who wish to attain to a higher level of moral perfection--e.g., those who take monastic vows.  This distinction has been canonized as a cornerstone of Catholic moral theology, but it was never undisputed (e.g., the Franciscan poverty controversy of the 13th and 14th centuries), and was rejected wholesale by Protestantism.  It was common in medieval thought to apply this distinction to the more troubling commands of the Sermon on the Mount, so that those who desired to become perfect would indeed renounce self-defense and show sacrificial love for their enemies, while ordinary Christians could safely ignore these difficult counsels and apply the criteria of justice to dealing with assailants, robbers, persecutors, etc. 

May 8, 2010
Van Drunen’s third chapter, “Reforming Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: John Calvin and His Contemporaries,” is longer than either of the previous two, considerably denser, and much more important to VanDrunen’s project, and so I am afraid it will take quite a commodious review to do it justice.  Before I start, I ought to admit up front that I am going to do something very un-kosher in this review--I am going to take a historian to task on theological grounds.  I know, you’re covering your ears with horror at the very suggestion! 

Pursuing Strangers

May 5, 2010
In Rom. 12:13, Paul tells us to “seek to show hospitality”--we tend to brush this sort of command aside as less relevant in a modern setting of ubiquitous motels and safe modes of travel, or else to water it down to “make sure to have other people in the Church over for dinner from time to time.”  
Origen’s commentary, however, suggests challenging contemporary relevance for any Christians in modern cities: 
“We are not just to receive the stranger when he comes to us, but actually to enquire after, and look carefully for, strangers, to pursue them and search them out everywhere, lest perchance somewhere they may sit in the streets or lie without a roof over their heads.” 

May 4, 2010 
I’ve been suspicious of Just War theory for quite a while now.  Some of it has to do with the pacifistic inroads Hauerwas and others made on my thinking, and some of it just has to do with the theory’s terrible historical track record.  The Just War theory has much more often served as a way of providing a justification for desired wars than as a criterion for refusing wars.  By reducing the requirements of justice in war to a convenient little list of criteria, the just war tradition has made it all too easy for politicians to spin the facts and stoke up the rhetoric so as to give a passable imitation of having met the criteria.  And so the most absurd prideful bloodbaths get whitewashed as “just wars”--the Civil War, World War I, the Iraq War.  

And so, as I said, I’d become suspicious, skeptical--not hostile, mind you, just dubious as to whether the theory actually enabled us to fight just wars and refuse unjust ones.  And so I thought, in all fairness to the tradition, I ought to hear its ablest defenders speak, and I planned to read Paul Ramsey’s The Just War and O’Donovan’s The Just War Revisited.  I haven’t gotten to the latter yet, but we were assigned portions of the former to read for class this past term.  I was, I am afraid, sorely disappointed--my hopes in the abilities of modern just war theorists to effectively challenge our warmongering societies were quite dashed.

May 2, 2010
(This post is actually short!)
In the last section of the chapter, “Precursors to the Reformed Tradition,” VanDrunen examines a figure whose name is regularly identified with “two kingdoms” theory, though rarely with the concept of natural law--Luther.   He seeks to show that both of these ideas played a crucial role in Luther’s political theology, which was in close continuity with the catholic strands he has already identified, and which set the stage for a more mature and systematic development in Reformed thought.

May 1, 2010
To write a chapter called “Precursors of the Reformed Tradition” seems a rather risky way to proceed, as it invites the criticism that you have set up the Reformed tradition as the perfected endpoint, and have scripted all of previous Church history into a narrative of development towards and imperfect realizations of this ideal.  Indeed, it is perhaps inevitable that this structural decision will lead to a somewhat imperfect and one-sided treatment of the history.  But I confess that VanDrunen does quite a good job (at least, so it seems on a first reading) of steering clear of the pitfalls that accompany this approach.  I was impressed and (I must confess) surprised by VanDrunen’s careful, even-handed treatment of the history, allowing each author to speak more or less for himself, rather than forcing him into the preconceived schema of what he was going to try and prove later, and by his sympathetic use of medieval Catholic sources, treating them as part of the single, continuous heritage of the Church’s teaching.  
I say “surprised” because this has not been, in my experience, typical of what you expect to find from Westminster Seminary professor, but perhaps times are changing.  Moreover, from my experience with Darryl Hart, I’d come to expect his brand of “spirituality of the church” advocate (as I’d perhaps over-hastily classified VanDrunen) to imaginatively project their idiosyncratic view backwards onto other figures with rather different views.  But, in any case, on the basis of chapter 2 I repent somewhat of these negative stereotypes.  This is not to say that I don’t have some lingering questions and objections, but on the whole I must admit this chapter to be coherent, balanced, and enlightening.

May 1, 2010
The “Sermon on the Mount.”  Simply to mention it, in the context of any discussion of Christian ethics, will change the tenor of the conversation.  It may impart an aura of sanctity and infallibility, or it may evoke images of Anabaptist radicals turning their collective cheek.  It now looms larger in our cultural imagination than perhaps any other Biblical passage, standing, depending on whom you ask, for all that good about Christianity or religion, or for all that is weak, silly, or absurd.  The ethics of the Sermon on the Mount have come to take on an absolutist dimension, so that Max Weber could famously write, 

“The Sermon on the Mount, by which we mean the absolute ethics of the Gospel, is something far more serious than those who are so fond of citing its commandments today believe.  It is not to be taken frivolously.  What has been said about causality in science also applies to this ethic, namely that it is not a hired cab which one may stop at will and climb into or out of as one sees fit.  Rather, the meaning of the sermon (if it is not to be reduced to banality) is precisely this: we must accept it in its entirety or leave it entirely alone.”  


April 30, 2010
At the risk of sounding like Puddleglum in my continued negativity, I note that Vermigli and Bullinger’s political theology seems to combine the worst of both worlds.  They insist on a tremendous continuity between the civil and ecclesial realms when it comes to establishing the prince’s authority to manage the Church and its ministers, but they insist on tremendous discontinuity when it comes to any of the influence or authority going the other way.  We hear that Christ’s kingdom is a purely spiritual kingdom, and so all the things that he tells his disciples to do and how to live, etc., are only intended to ministers in the Church, not to any other authorities; in fact, when he tells them things like “You are not to lord it over one another as the Gentiles do”; far from calling into question the power-arrangements in the empire, he intends to reinforce them.
Consider the following passages from Bullinger's Confutation of the Pope's Bull Against Queen Elizabeth

April 29, 2010
When I was buying plane tickets and booking accomodations earlier this week for a summer trip to Europe, I was surprised by all the little “insurance” add-ons I was being urged to purchase.  For an extra 20 euros, I could buy the right to receive a full refund on my ticket if for any reason I needed to cancel my travel plans.  For an extra 15, I could buy full coverage for any lost baggage.  For 10 (this was my favorite), I could guarantee myself a 75 euro refund if my flight arrived more than an hour late.  Now, needless to say, these little promises of security had little allure for me--my reaction was, “Heck, that takes all the fun out of it!  What’s the point of traveling if there’s no uncertainty?”  After all, I am the guy who intentionally proposed to my future wife when I really didn’t know if she would answer yes, just because I thought the uncertainty made it more interesting.

It got me to thinking, though, about the ubiquity of this sort of thing in our society.  There’s insurance for everything.  We’re currently in the process of downgrading our bank account from a “Silver Account” that offers lots of extra perks, like Car Breakdown Coverage, Mobile Phone Insurance, and European Travel Insurance, which promises me (among many other things) a £30,000 payout if I lose a limb while trekking up to an altitude of 2,500 metres.  

April 29, 2010
If you know me, you know it’s frustrating enough for me when the Reformers claim that civil authority wields its authority as permanent fixture of the creation order, or when they claim that the magistrate ought to rule over the Church.  But, I can handle all that.  But how about when they go and claim that civil authority is not merely a lawful and important calling, but the most honourable and important calling there is--more honorable than ecclesial offices.  Consider John Calvin, from the Institutes: “No one ought to doubt that civil authority is a calling, not only holy and lawful before God, but also the most sacred and by far the most honorable of all callings in the whole life of mortal men.” 
Or how about Heinrich Bullinger, who insists that politicians are thousands of times more virtuous and honorable than monks:  

April 28, 2010
Before reviewing the rest of chapter 1, I want to voice my appreciation for VanDrunen’s tone in this section.  Unless I am missing hidden barbs of underlying sarcasm (which may well be the case, since I have become rather fuller of the milk of human kindness since moving over here than I was in my American Reformed days), his general tone throughout is patient, measured, carefully qualified, and quite respectful of his opponents.  I am particularly gratified by the way he summarizes figures such as N.T. Wright, John Milbank, and Stanley Hauerwas, all of whom tend to be polarizing figures, oft misrepresented, especially in American Reformed circles.  He represents them fairly and seems to have genuine respect for the insights and contributions they bring to the theological discussion, even where he disagrees with them.  He clearly thinks that neo-Calvinism is deeply flawed, yet he never acts like they are stupid, wicked, irrational, or incoherent.  In all of these respects, I found this book much easier reading than I’d expected, having been prepared by my experience with Darryl Hart for a lot of snarkiness.

April 28, 2010
In my researches on Reformation political theology, I have been struck how the same Reformers who are so adamant about returning to the Church Fathers on issues of soteriology and ecclesiology (though even here, we must confess, they are rather selective), seem to have little such interest when it comes to matters of ethics.  On the contrary, they tend to be very modernizing on ethical issues.  Where the Church Fathers tend to be against marriage, and the medievals allow marriage but put tight constraints on it (e.g., no divorce), the Reformers gladly affirm marriage and relax the constraints on it (e.g., opening the doors wide for divorce).  Where the Church Fathers tended to be hostile to private property, and the medievals allow it but put tight constraints on it (e.g., no usury), the Reformers gladly embrace a market economy and relax the constraints.

Along these lines, I was particularly struck (and disturbed) by a passage in Bullinger, when he is talking about the obligation to fight in defense of one’s country, freedom, and possessions, and extolling the virtues of patriotism.  For Augustine, you may recall, it was never righteous to kill in defense of one’s possessions, or of anything pertaining to oneself; and though it was permissible to fight in defensive wars, the language of patriotism is deeply undermined in the City of God.  

April 27, 2010
I have been asked to review David VanDrunen’s Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought for the Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology, and so I will be blogging through the book in detail as I read it; of course the final review will be far more condensed than what I offer here.  So here is the first post, which doesn’t get us past the first page (don’t worry--it will go faster after this!).
In this book, David VanDrunen attempts to lend scholarly weight and sobriety to the growing chorus of Lutheran-esque Reformed theologians who are decrying the takeover of Reformed circles by Kuyperianism and Christian worldview thinking.  Darryl Hart has perhaps been the loudest and most recurrent voice in that chorus, but many of his colleagues at both Westminster Seminaries and elsewhere have voiced similar concerns, lamenting that Reformed Christians now see the need to apply their Reformed faith--their “worldview”--to every area of life, instead of recognizing the necessity of a large secular realm of politics, economics, science, and more, a realm governed by the natural law, rather than by specifically Christian principles.  VanDrunen wishes to rehabilitate the notions of natural law (commonly dismissed as a Catholic doctrine) and the two kingdoms (commonly dismissed as a Lutheran doctrine) as historically Reformed doctrines.  He proposes to offer a narrative in which the two kingdoms was taught by the Calvinist Reformers and their theological descendants all the way up to the end of the 19th-century, at which point the spectre of ubiquitous secularism frightened Reformed folks into adopting the “neo-Calvinist” (Kuyperian) innovation.

April 27, 2010


Within the few decades following the publication of Rerum Novarum, the dominance of capitalism and the threat of militant socialism remain, but the alternatives become somewhat clearer.  By the time Hilaire Belloc is writing The Servile State in 1913, and certainly by his Essay on the Restoration of Property in 1936, it has become clear that socialism does not mean, as Leo perhaps still imagined, the abolition of property ownership, but rather, the concentration of property ownership in the hands of the state.  Belloc is thus able to recognize socialism not as the opposite of capitalism, but simply as an essentially pragmatic development of the same impulse, underlying industrial capitalism, of centralizing control of the means of production.  Hence, in contrast to Leo, Belloc believes the situation calls a defense, not of private ownership in the abstract against common ownership, but of well-distributed private ownership against concentrated ownership--it is empty, in his mind, to defend the right of private property if only a small sliver of the population are to enjoy that right.  It is worth noting also that, perhaps due to his English setting, he does not want to explicitly situate himself in the Catholic tradition, though we can surmise that it lies in the background of his thought.

Review of The Shock Doctrine

April 26, 2010
Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine is a must-read for anyone in the modern West.  Okay, that’s a broad statement, so let me try one more focused: it is a must-read for Red-state Christian America.  Too long have we blindly thrown our weight behind the idea that capitalism would bring peace, freedom, and prosperity to the benighted Third World, and have we, with dangerous syncretism, imagined that its onward march was the vanguard of the Kingdom of God, trampling over secularists in our race to declare its victories as the offspring of our Christianity’s genius.  We glibly reassure ourselves that we are “pro-life” because we decry the crimes of abortion doctors, all the while ignoring the blood of the neoliberalism crusade’s millions of victims.  Naomi Klein calls on us all to wake up and smell the ugly stench of reality.  What makes this book so compelling is that it transcends standard debates about whether the “free enterprise system” or state-run enterprise works better, by examining the actual track record of the Chicago School, pure capitalist notion of free markets, and concluding that this “free enterprise system” has never existed.  We are accustomed to treating “the government” and “private companies” as two antithetical actors, and yet this assumption is no longer true, if it ever was.  

Six hundred years later, the growth of capitalism has called forth a militant socialism in reaction.  Its call for the abolition of all private property by the state incites Leo XIII to respond with the encyclical Rerum Novarum, inaugurating the tradition of Catholic Social Teaching.  At the center of this document is a full-blown attack on socialism, based on a sturdy defense of the right of private property, a right that Leo feels the need to affirm more strongly than Aquinas did.  While seeking (and no doubt perceiving himself) to be in line with Thomist teaching, Leo comes close to simply rooting the right of property in nature, in a way that Thomas never does.  He does this by importing a Lockean metaphysical account of property, suggesting that a right to private property simply arises out of one’s labor upon that property.  It is worth attending carefully to how he constructs his justification and how it differs from Aquinas’s.

Still traveling, so I haven't had the opportunity to write up anything new, but I thought that, since I've been saying for so long in comments, "Oh, I discuss this at more length in the papers I'm writing" I should post those papers, now that they're done.  I must confess that they don't include much of what I claimed they would, because there's this abominable 5,000-word limit at University of Edinburgh that O'Donovan thinks is complete rubbish.  But, all that can be saved for another day.  So, first, the paper on Catholic Theories of Property--this post will include the introduction and section on Aquinas.
For western Christians living after Fukuyama’s fabled “end of history”--the demise of communism and triumph of capitalism--it is easy to feel as if the problem of private property is not a problem at all.  All sides of the political spectrum, whatever their differences, would agree that private property is good and necessary, and that, on the whole, we have succeeded in assuring adequate access to it in our societies (though conservatives would gripe that it is not sufficiently free from government predation, and liberals would implore us to make it more a reality for the lower strata of society).  But in Christian history, it started as quite a serious problem, with many Church Fathers denying the legitimacy of private property altogether.  In the Middle Ages, theologians developed a more nuanced view, influentially crystallized by Thomas Aquinas, who affirmed the good of private property, but made it subordinate to the right of common use.  

April 16, 2010

Since a few people have told me they appreciated the stuff I’ve been posting on taxation and theft here, I thought I’d post just a bit more from the Facebook discussion--the text below was in reply to a section of a large rebuttal someone wrote up there, but it should basically make sense on its own.  Also, since it’s that time of the year again, and the Tea Partiers were out in force yesterday, I recall my first little essay on this whole business, which I wrote last Tax Day, and you can find here.

Since daring to post that taxation and theft essay on Facebook, I’ve been snowed under responding to comments and objections there, so instead of posting a bit on Just War theory, as I was hoping to, I will just offer instead one of the more substantive clarifications I posted in the taxation and theft discussion:
One thing worth dealing with properly here and now is the issue of the OT laws. For the sake of conciseness, I offered in my initial post a rather brief appeal to the matter of the OT laws, a matter which I’ve been studying for a long time (largely in order to get a handle on these very issues). Two main lines of objection have been raised. The first is that the Old Testament laws never authorize a centralized government authority to tax money from one group of people, pool it, and then hand it out to another group of people. I substantially agree with this objection (though I shall offer something of an exception in a moment). My point was not to say that the OT laws authorized this. 

April 9, 2010
(See the first part in the previous post)
...Third, and most significantly in my mind, this narrative requires that we can legitimately regard the money that has been taken from us as “our money”--as in the Margaret Thatcher quote, “you run out of other people’s money.”  Now, I have already pointed out one sense in which this is oversimplistic--simply by being members of a society, some of our resources have to be pooled, and the decision over how to use them will not belong to us alone.  Nevertheless, it could still be argued that there are some uses of money by a society that are inherently unjust, that simply no society has any business using its members’ money for.  This, perhaps, is how to take statements like Wilson’s: with the implied distinction that while there are certain uses to which our government may justly put our tax money, uses that we should accept even when we think they are ill-managed, there are others which it cannot.  In the latter cases, since it is levying money from us for unjust purposes, one could make the case that it is unjust in levying the money, and thus the money still justly belongs to us.  To take what justly belongs to another is “theft” or “robbery” and so, in such cases, perhaps the accusation holds.  

Way back near the beginning of this school year, I remember Prof. Northcott recounting to our class a recent debate in Durham, NC, that he’d been invited to participate in, a debate with Calvin Beisner, whom he aptly termed “a cornucopian dominionist.”  With humored incredulity, he shared with us the astonishing fact that Beisner thought it was “theft” for the government to take people’s money through taxes and distribute them to others through programs like Social Security or the debated healthcare initiative.  Could we believe he said such a thing? he asked.  I timidly answered that almost everyone I’d grown up around would’ve employed that rhetoric.  And I’ve been thinking about it ever since--is this really a rational criticism?  If it is rational, it certainly isn’t self-evident.  And not being self-evident, and being a rather harsh and provocative accusation, it seems that, if there’s any weight to it, it ought to be carefully argued, not casually thrown around without a shred of argumentation, as it often has been, particularly during the healthcare debate and in its aftermath.

My appreciation for distributism was considerably lessened last week when I delved deeper into Belloc as part of writing up my paper on Catholic theories of property.  I had noted before, of course, that Belloc rooted distributism not in Biblical principles (like an appeal to Old Testament law) but in the rather modern value of "freedom," which troubled me a bit.  But, on closer consideration, this seems considerably more problematic, and risks turning the whole Thomistic tradition on its head in favor of capitalist values like the freedom to pursue individual self-interest.  At the risk of being accused of laziness, I will paste here the entire relevant section of my paper:

The Idolatry Trap

Just a brief thought for the day.  A couple weeks ago in class, Oliver O’Donovan said, “The more you make the government responsible for everything, the more you call on the government to fix everything.”  This profound remark has stuck with me since, and will probably continue to haunt me for a long time.  
In this statement, he was playing on the two meanings of the word “responsible”: “guilty” and “in charge of.”  In other words, the more you try to make the government responsible for everything in the sense of blaming them for everything, the more you implicitly make them responsible for everything in the sense of being in charge of it all, and so invite them to own up to that responsibility and take it upon themselves to fix everything.  
This exposes the danger of the attitude on the far right and particularly among Christian conservatives and libertarians that the best way to fight the idolatry of statism is to almost obsessively decry the state’s sins, demonize the state, and try to prove that all of society’s ills (or at least a large chunk of them) are the state’s fault.  In the end, if O’Donovan is right, this attitude shares the left’s idolatry of the state even while claiming to oppose it.  

The Politics of Good Friday

For four years running, I always posted the text of Dr. Leithart's amazing 2006 Good Friday Homily on Good Friday, but I thought I would post his 2008 homily instead this time around, especially in view of this blog's emphasis on political theology.

And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, "Behold your King!" But they cried out, "Away with him, away with him, crucify him." Pilate saith unto them, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar." --John 19:14-15


In medieval iconography, John the Evangelist is depicted as an eagle, and this portrait expresses the opinion of the early church fathers, that John wrote a “spiritual” gospel which has a “loftier spiritual purpose” than the other gospels.  John is the eagle because he soars “aloft to contemplate and proclaim sublime truths,” while the other gospel writers are land animals, preoccupied with the “more mundane aspects of Jesus’ ministry and person.” 

A Maundy Thursday hymn

Thee we adore, O hidden Savior, Thee,
Who in Thy sacrament dost deign to be;
Both flesh and spirit at Thy presence fail,
Yet here Thy presence we devoutly hail.
O blest memorial of our dying Lord,
Who living Bread to men doth here afford!
O may our souls forever feed on Thee,
And Thou, O Christ, forever precious be.
Fountain of gladness, Jesu, Lord and God,
Cleanse us, unclean, with Thy most cleansing blood;
Increase our faith and love, that we may know
The hope and peace which from Thy presence flow.
O Christ, whom now beneath a veil we see,
May what we thirst for soon our portion be,
To gaze on Thee unveiled, and see Thy face,
The vision of Thy glory and Thy grace.

Calvinism or Lollardism?

An interesting theme that has peeked its head out several times in both Oliver O’Donovan and Joan O’Donovan’s classes this past term has been the gap between Calvin and Calvinism, and I thought it would be worthwhile sharing some of their remarks here.  To point out that later Calvinists were not necessarily the most faithful followers of Calvin’s own thought,  is, of course, nothing new; however, it cannot be overemphasized, in light of how blithely and readily followers of the English Puritan or Scotch Presbyterian traditions identify themselves as Calvinists. 
According to Oliver O’Donovan (henceforth O O’D), the Presbyterian/Puritan movement followed Calvin in about the same way that the early Anglican movement adopted Luther--he provided a convenient figurehead under which to align themselves, and his ideas were invoked when useful, but much of the impetus was quite different.  Indeed, O O’D went so far as to state his conviction that the English Puritan movement was in fact more of a Lollard movement, rooted in the paradigms established by Wycliffe two centuries before, than it was ever a Calvinist movement; it had (shocking as it may be to today’s Presbyterians) too much Catholicism about it to be genuinely Calvinist, more Catholicism than any other major Protestant group.  This last statement turns standard Presbyterian paradigms--by which the 17th-century Puritans and their evangelical descendants finished purging the relics of Catholicism out of the excellent, but incomplete, reforms of Calvin and the English Reformation--on their heads.  What can O O’D mean?  

March 28, 2010
Class with Oliver O’Donovan last week was unusually enlightening even by the high standards of that class.  Deep insights and great quotes poured from the sage professor in a sparkling effusion, and I couldn’t take notes fast enough (especially as I had to use pen and paper).  Some of the most interesting thoughts came on the question of how we should view technology from an ethical standpoint--is technology neutral?  (The texts for the class were two fantastic essays on technology by the Canadian philosopher George Grant).  
It is a standard platitude among--well, among most anybody in mainstream Western thought, but particularly among conservatives, including, more often than not, Christian conservatives--that “technology is a neutral tool; it isn’t good or evil in itself, it depends on how you use it.”  The problem with that seeming truism is that the two halves of the statement are not saying the same thing.

(Submitted for a school assignment, but something I'd been wanting to do anyway)

In his latest monograph, The Myth of Religious Violence, William Cavanaugh indulges once again in his favorite past-time of shattering cherished idols of liberal political thought, idols that serve as foundations for consensus within the current Western political order.  However, apparently zealous to avoid being marginalized by the academic establishment of the various fields he is engaging, Cavanaugh seems at pains to present his case with a scholarly rigour and thoroughness that marks a definite shift in style from his earlier, more essayistic works.  Valuable as this thoroughness may be, fans of Cavanaugh’s writing may find that it has the unfortunate side-effect of draining this work of some of the refreshing vigour, flair, and provocative edge that characterize his previous works.  

I have mentioned a couple times before, I think on this blog, but certainly elsewhere, Aquinas’s (in)famous teaching that it is just for a poor man in great need to “steal” what he and his family need for life from someone who has resources to spare (assuming, of course, that he has no other way to get them).  Although this teaching is a long tradition of the Church (and indeed, Aquinas is being rather conservative, compared to Basil and Chrysostom--see previous post), I always get remarkably violent reactions when I mention this.  
Why?  Somewhere along the way, conservatives picked up the idea (oddly enough, in direct contradiction to at least the first millenium of Christian teaching) that the Bible is especially concerned to safeguard the right of private property, indeed, that this particularly distinguishes Biblical ethics, over against surrounding pagan nations.  (This last part is particularly odd, given that both the pagan societies surrounding ancient Israel and the Roman society surrounding the early Church were noted for legal structures that favored unrestricted and absolute private property rights, against which the Bible seems to be directly aiming.)  Christian conservatives have gone even further, and, defining capitalism (again, in my mind, very oddly) as consisting fundamentally in an affirmation of private property rights (see, for example, here, and Rodney Stark’s The Victory of Reason), have concluded that the Bible is a blueprint for free-market capitalism.  

So it turns out that I had even less time on my travels than I expected, and there is no barrage of prefab blog posts about to be unleashed.  But I did read an article on Aquinas’s view of property rights, which, although rubbish in itself, contained some remarkable quotes from the Church Fathers on the subject of charity and property rights.  Very shocking stuff, and I can’t help but ask, with a bit of a sense of betrayal--why, all those times when I learned about the Church Fathers, was none of this mentioned?  
Here are two representative passages:

Travel Advisory

Please note: I will be off visiting cathedrals, abbeys, and the like for the next four days, so far as I know without internet.  So I won't be posting, but will probably still be writing up posts, which I will then disgorge onto this blog en masse next weekend.  Scary, I know.  Maybe I'll even put up pictures of cathedrals and abbeys...make this blog rather more colorful than it's used to being.
In the meantime, if you feel deprived (ha! don't worry, even I'm not that vain) you could listen to the recent Theopolitico podcasts...in this last one in particular, we achieved much more of the balance that I was hoping for, and we've been having some good ongoing discussion on the nature of coercion.  Still needs to have a lot of kinks ironed out, but hopefully it'll prove useful to some folks.  

March 11, 2010
Hilaire Belloc’s Essay on the Restoration of Property is a fantastic paradigm-rocker.  In it, he sets forth the shocking, but ultimately quite sensible claim that, far from being opposites, capitalism and socialism are essentially of the same genus; socialism just takes capitalism a bit further--to it’s logical conclusion.  How could this be?  Because both are the rejection of private property.  But wait, hold on a minute--I thought capitalism was all in favor of private property.  Well, not really.  With the rise of modern capitalism, the possession of real, productive property, which was once widely distributed among the majority of the population, was rapidly concentrated in the hands of a small minority of the population, leaving very few small proprietors and producers, and enslaving most of those that remained to the control of banks.  Socialism is simply taking the next step--if we’ve already dispossessed most people, and concentrated the means of production in the hands of a few, let’s just go ahead and concentrate them in the hands of one entity that is at least looking out for the welfare of everyone.  

March 11, 2010
One of the most fundamental problems in the political and economic theology is the relationship between charity and justice..  This is not just some academic quibble over terms, but has potentially huge practical significance.  Traditionally, justice has been designated as the responsibility of the state, and charity of the Church.  But if we’re going to divide things up so neatly, we’d better have a clear idea of the distinction.  On this issue of giving, the theft vs. stinginess issue I touched on in a recent post, the distinction looms very large.  For, if stinginess is always a failure of charity only, not of justice, then it is outside the reach of the law; states have no business taxing people in order to give their money to others, or penalizing people for greed, or any of that.  But if it's a failure of justice, then presumably (assuming we've rightly assigned the task of the "state," and assuming we've rightly figured out what the "state" is--ha!) we're permitting grave injustice when we don't have laws regulating the acquisition and distribution of wealth.  Unfortunately, the tradition does not give us as clear an answer as we would like on this crucial question.

March 9, 2010
I have huge problems with Melanchthon’s treatment of Romans 13, from which this passage is excerpted, but nevertheless, there may well be some interesting points of intersection with how I used Romans 13 in my recent post “The Power of Civil Obedience.”  I am increasingly wondering how constructive much of our obsession with griping against the government really is--I mean, I obviously think it’s important that we should understand the truth about the evils that we are facing in modern states, and confront these evils, but the obligations of charity and love of enemy don’t disappear.  Just something worth chewing on:

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